Georgina Young tells us about an adventure exploring Monkey Beach in Penang National Park, Malaysia.
It is completely out of character, I don’t know what was going through my mind as I was packing my backpack at 7:30am. Six litres of water? Check. Snacks for the day? Check. Change of clothes? Check. Copious amounts of suntan lotion? Check.
I’ve got everything ready to go, and I pull on my hike bag, the same one that just the night before was housing all my worldly belongings, and walk out of my hostel into the bright morning light. I immediately put on my sunglasses and make my way to the bus stop, water bottles weighing me down.
The bus winds pleasantly for more than an hour through northern Penang, stopping off at the all places a tourist could ever want to see. Lush mountains blend into white sandy beaches, wildlife parks litter the highway. There is nothing quite like the nature and beauty of this island UNESCO heritage site.
Both a young Spanish girl and I disembark at the last stop, the national park. After ignoring all the scouts trying to sell me things on the path up to the park, registering my intentions with the park staff, I begin my trek into the reserve.
I’m immediately struck by the wide, smooth, paved pathway. Maybe this trek is going to be a lot easier than imagined, was it oversold? But after around half a kilometre things get decidedly more rocky and by the kilometre mark the pathway has all but disappeared. The further and further into the forest I go, the more treacherous the route becomes until I am hoping from post to post over a sheer drop and literally crawling in, out, under and over sprawling tree roots.
The trees own this forest I am just a guest here.
I stop frequently and gulp down huge amounts of water. The tiny black and white map I’ve been given says that it will take 1 ½ hours to make it to my destination, to Monkey Beach, but I know it will take me much longer as thoroughly unaccustomed to hiking as I am, particularly in these conditions.
In my short shorts and tank top, carving my way through vines and tree branches, I feel like the real life Lara Croft only of course much more pink and sweaty. I pass several small quaint beaches on the way and consider just stopping here away from the tourist traps.
But then I see it over the horizon. The pure sand cuts around the forest and the mountain side for what seems like miles. The little boat moored up to shore gives the stereotypical impression of any island paradise. But this view is all mine.
As I descend onto the beach from my mountain pass I see the critter for which the beach is named. Monkey’s fighting for position on several of the trees that surround this idyllic beach setting. I scramble up onto a rock in order to change into my clothes and take a dip in the clear, turquoise bay, but just as I get out my clothes for changing, a monkey has seized them.
“Hit it with a stick!” I hear a woman’s voice echoing from a nearby rock.
I try in vain to look for a stick, but failing to see anything scary enough to fend off this fearsome beast I make myself large and hiss. More so to do with the fact that the stolen bag contains only clothes and not food, rather than my less than scary attempt to fend him off, the monkey drops my bag and scarpers. I retrieve my bathers and finish changing, thanking the American on the rocks for her advice.
Placing my hike bag as close to the sea as possible without it getting wet I dive into the sea and feel the refreshingly cool liquid flow over me, relieving me from the scorching heat. Up on the beach I see a French couple, abandon their bags near the trees and hasten towards the sea. But shouting I warn them.
“Careful Monkeys!” and they too tie their bags somewhere near the coast. After around 20 minutes in the sea I hear the French girl scream as she scares two carefully approaching monkeys from my luggage. You give a little you get a little. I spend the whole day, talking with tourists who have made the tiring trek themselves, locals who make their living selling jet ski rides and lying in the sun.
A tanned, fit Malaysian beach bum enquires whether I would like a jet ski back to shore and I honestly tell him that I only have 4 Ringits on me and that’s for the bus home. He then suggests that next time I come I should bring my boyfriend.
“Yea I should” I say aimlessly back. I of course need to find myself a boyfriend first.
Believing me to be poor and unavailable he gives up on his quest to talk to me and I spend the day reading in the beating sun.
By 4pm as the sun is no longer at it’s highest and feeling well rested I begin my return journey, this time starting at the hardest point making my way back to the easiest. The pathway is just as deserted as before and I passing people is rare. On one of my frequent stops I am passed by a group of Malaysians hiking the trail barefoot thinking that the only reason I could be sitting there in the mud was because I had fallen and was injured. They rush to my aid.
“Oh no I’m fine. Just taking a rest”
The concept is alien to them, and they take off on their hardened, hobbit heels.
As I reach the entrance again, having ripped my leggings in half and exhausted, I refused to take the advice I have read to change into dry clothes believing that the refreshing breeze of the bus air con will be more than welcome after the heat blast I feel like I have just walked through. And it is for around 30 minutes, before I realise how wrong I was, shivering on the bus, my clothes completely soaked through with what I have to remind myself is not in fact sea water as my brain reasons it must be, but sweat.
While thinking to myself “this is why I don’t go hiking” I have to console myself with the memory of the beach paradise I discovered, and how few people are able to see it as I have.
About the Author: George is a 20-something hitchhiker, solo female traveller and cunning linguist, currently teaching in Kyushu, Japan. She circumnavigates the globe and teaches languages to all those in her wake. She has travelled Europe and Oz extensively, and has taught languages in 7 different countries and counting. Her blog is a mix of language learning, TEFL tips and general travel tales. Follow her journey at George on the Go or on Facebook or Twitter.